Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Importance of Michigan's reach block

There's something very wrong with the offensive line, as we've come to realize over the last few games, but a few plays against Northwestern were particularly perplexing. The play below will make you yearn for David Molk and his unique skillset, but it will also make you wonder what exactly the offensive line staff is teaching this unit.

Michigan comes out in its new heavy I-formation, which features Mike Kwiatkowski on one side of the formation and Devin Funchess aligned as an H-back on the other side. This is a zone run left (maybe; I'll discuss this later):
The critical block on this play is for Elliott Mealer to reach the defensive tackle that's aligned off his left shoulder and seal him to the inside. Northwestern comes out in a 4-3 that looks more like a 4-4 with the backside cornerback rolled into the box because he has no one to cover.

Devin Funchess motions across the formation to the playside.

As the ball is snapped, the line blocks left, but the playside defensive tackle gets immediately inside Mealer. The other big problem is Ricky Barnum, whose first step is backward. He is now running behind Taylor Lewan instead of doubling the playside defensive end and allowing Lewan to release upfield.

Funchess comes out of the backfield to block the middle lineback, ignoring the the LB who was rolled up to the line of scrimmage on the playside (that's fullback Joe Kerridge's assignment). Mealer and Barnum are now two yards behind the line of scrimmage. Lewan, who was expecting help from Barnum (I think) is also being pushed into the backfield. This is before Gardner has even handed the ball off.

Toussaint has no choice but to try and bounce it outside...

...and it does not go well.


The Takeaway
OK, so what actually happened here. I'm inclined to think this was a zone blocking scheme, but Barnum's first step leads me to believe this is a man blocking scheme. Here's what I think is happening: Barnum is not technically covered by a defensive tackle. Instead, that tackle is aligned in the playside A gap. If an offensive lineman isn't covered, he's instructed to pull toward the frontside, but in this instance, that requires Mealer reaches his block quickly and without any help.

The other problem with this blocking scheme actually happens on the backside. Patrick Omameh tries releasing to the second level but is engaged by the backside defensive tackle. At the same time, Michael Schofield tries to cut block the backside DT and should have been called for a chop block.

Other surprising aspects of this play: regardless of what the blocking scheme was, Taylor Lewan gets absolutely blown off the line of scrimmage.

I don't pretend to be an expert at offensive line schemes, but this seems untenable. I've watched this play upwards of 20 times and can't figure out what this line is doing. It's entirely possible that absolutely everyone gets beaten off the ball, but there just seems to be too much confusion for that to be the real cause. Mealer can't reach the playside defensive tackle, that much is clear. But what is Barnum's assignment? What is Omameh's assignment? Why is Schoefield the only one chop blocking? Side note: Why is he so bad at it? For all of the work that this staff has done with both sides of the ball, I can't understand why the offensive line looks so ill-prepared and confused.


Brad Potts said...

Could have Barnum been confused about the call and pulled when he should have combo blocked the DT with Mealer? It seems absurd to think Mealer would be assigned to reach that DT with the DT so far outside of him.

If Lewan the playside end move up field and take himself out of the play, Kerridge chips the OLB, Mealer gets help from Barnum, and Schofield chops the backside DT, Toussaint could have a big hole with Barnum and Omameh (and Funchess, if you want to count him) already moving into the second level.

Whatever the case, the lack of coordination between the linemen has been as perplexing and worrying as the individual performance, cause I'm not sure even Molk makes that reach block. Even if he would have managed that reach block, it looks like Toussaint meets the MLB in the hole for no gain.

Arontal said...

Not sure I agree with your analysis here. I think a major issue is that the assignments were read wrong. In a sense, to pull MGBlog lingo, we were RPS'd by NU on this one. Mealer should NEVER be expected to reach a guy shaded that far outside of him. That would be a tough maneuver for Molk, and Mealer is certainly not winning a Rimmington anytime soon.

The NT essentially chased Barnum (smart move, will take him to point of attack). By being on Barnum's heals he was assured of defeating a reach. Despite that fact, the play might have worked had NU not shifted their second level alignment. They shifted their second level down just before the snap and Funchess took the wrong guy. Funchess should have taken the OLB on that alignment instead of shooting for the MLB. He was lined up too close to LOS and there would be no chance for Kerridge to blow him up before the play was stuffed. Had the assignments been Funchess|OLB, Kerridge|MLB the NT would have been forced to pursue past the lane and the play would likely go for 1-2 yards and not a loss of 2. That said, those sorts of realignments are not going to happen in college ball with a college center and 2nd string qb reading the defensive alignments. We were RPS'd.

Yes, maybe Molk could have made chicken salad of chickenshit, but it still would have likely been stuffed.

Arontal said...

I should read before posting. Pretty much agree with this.

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